Arroyo Seco Weekend-Day One

Arroyo Seco Weekend-Day One

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Hurray For The Riff Raff was a revelation.

Jack White was an inspiration.

Jeff Goldblum was a surprise.

And Gomez was having so much fun you felt like you wanted to join a band.

It’s summer in Southern California. But despite being the longest days of the year, it gets cold at night. For the last couple of acts I parked my feet on the cart path, which retained the heat. That’s right, Arroyo Seco is at the Rose Bowl, on the golf course. It’s a beautiful site, with plenty of room to stretch out on. What does the festival stand for? I DON’T KNOW!

Maybe you grew up with Woodstock. Maybe you remember when sound reinforcement was bad, when bands could not perform harmonies, when lines for the port-a-potties were long and the food was execrable. That was the sixties, that was the seventies, that was half a century ago.

But now music is a mature business. It’s almost pre-Beatles in a way. The glitz and glamour are gone. it’s truly a business. Not the epicenter of the culture. And when you go to the show, it’s about you, not them.

Oh, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Of course there are superstars. Of course there are acts to die for, that you sing along with. But no one is as big as they used to be, ubiquity is history in the internet age. And if you miss the show, you will survive. You only have to be able to reach your social sites, you can’t live a day without your handset, it’s your most important possession, everything else is secondary.

So this was a day in the park.

My generation was mostly absent. It’s weird to be the oldest person in the crowd. But it’s good to be old. Life is about a pecking order. And when you reach my age, you’re comfortable with who you are. Before that…

Everybody had on their look. Nobody came as a schlub. Can you meet someone at a festival like this? I’m not sure. Are the women dressing to impress the women or the men? I think the former. It’s a veritable cornucopia of humanity, but almost no one was fat, that’s the SoCal culture. But whereas I used to be elated that I’d made it this far, to the left coast, the whole country, the whole world, has been squeezed together. You fly cross-country on a whim. Everybody’s reachable, findable, yet anonymous.

Like the acts.

I didn’t get there early enough to see Dwight Twilley. I’M ON FIRE! Remember when that hit the airwaves? He could never equal it, the last time I saw him was at Madame Wong’s, and he didn’t play it. I didn’t know he even still gigged. But I had a memorial to go to, I couldn’t make it.

But I did see Shakey Graves. I wasn’t impressed. The crowd liked him, but he didn’t hook me. I was getting depressed. I was there alone in the heat and I stumbled over to the Willow tent where Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra were holding court and…

They hooked me.

It’s not my kind of music. But they were having fun! Jeff talked to the audience, had them sing songs by those on the bill. And for a finale, he and the band covered “Harvest Moon.” Hmm…a thinking musician, I’m all for that, especially in this brain-dead world.

I’ve seen the Milk Carton Kids up close and personal and I loved them. But it didn’t work on a big stage, despite having a full band. If I’d missed them, there’d be no loss. But I stumbled back to the Willow tent to see Hurray For the Riff Raff and I was stunned.

Alynda Segarra is a star. How come nobody knows?

Her band was incredibly tight. And the songs were catchy and meaningful and she had the music in her and I was enraptured.

Then I saw on my phone she’d been doing it for ten years already, and I was reminded of the era we live in. Where you’re lucky if you can fight your way to the middle. If you see her, you’ll be closed. She’s the woman we’ve been waiting for. But she’s not TMZ-ready, and she’s Puerto Rican, and do we have a racist, sexist media? Is there room for a Puerto Rican woman? I don’t think so. Remember, this is the country with a hurricane on the island that got little help.

Just when you think rock and roll is dead you get re-inspired.

Sounded to me like some of the songs were radio-ready. But is the target audience even listening to the radio? This was a political show without being strident. I don’t want to overstate the case, but don’t pass up a chance to see this act. Hurray for Hurray For The Riff Raff.

As for Chrissie Hynde…

Do they come any cooler?

But unlike Alynda Segarra, Hynde and her Pretenders came up in an era where either you had a record deal or didn’t count. Where if you got on the radio everybody knew who you were. So, we know the songs by heart. Especially the women in the audience. Women are inspired by Hynde, she made it her way in a boys’ club. Her flock are believers.

As for the food…

I didn’t eat anything good.

The gourmet hot dogs were not.

The lobster roll was good, but light on meat.

And the bratwurst was undercooked.


Could have just been what I picked. But my wallet was forty three dollars lighter and I had little satiation.

And then came Jack White.

I can’t listen to his records. They’re half-baked, the material is not superior.

And everybody laments the breakup of the White Stripes.

And the guy must have the best publicist, he’s in the news constantly.

But on stage tonight…

It was like we didn’t matter, like he wasn’t doing it for us. Like he was beamed down from the heavens fully-formed, and didn’t sound like anybody else.

We live in a hip-hop world. And one of the reasons this is so is because so much rock is derivative. But not White.

My favorite moment was when he played the drums and you could hear the piano and…

It was transcendent. You didn’t have to know the material to appreciate it. White took us on an aural trip. I was transfixed. Grooving. He’s an original in a sea of imitation.

The production was interesting, but didn’t work in the sunlight.

But it didn’t matter. The music expanded our minds. White delivered. He was the king of the show, whether the audience realized it or not. The band was polished. He picked like he did in “It Might Get Loud” and he made me a fan overnight.

As for the Specials…

I’m a huge ska fan. But while I watched they didn’t play the classics, and at best it’s ancient material, and it was weird after living in the future with Jack White to go back to the past. Nostalgia is creepy.

And I missed Margo Price, I was deep in conversation.

And Belle and Sebastian too.

But while the Specials disappointed, I wandered to the Willow tent to hear Gomez and…

I was stunned by the applause.

It’s not that there were that many people there. But seemingly every Gomez fan in L.A. was. They were singing along. They were elated.

And I haven’t seen the band since they played the Palace over a decade ago. And I never loved them that much. But as I stood there, they got to me. It was the passion. And the sound. You’re jaded, you think you’ve seen it all, and then you find you’re hooked all over again.

Which made me late to see Neil Young.

I was planning to stay until the end. But when he was jamming on songs I didn’t know ad infinitum I decided to bolt. That’s right, I’m now a true Californian, leaving early to beat the traffic.

So what did we learn?

A festival is not about the music. The music is an afterthought. With the right music, the trappings are irrelevant. You’ve just got to see the acts.

But while one is grazing one can get turned on to new stuff.

So, there were moments there where I was fully-focused, my body was moving, I was grooving to the tunes, and then…

I was wandering amongst the assembled multitude and wondering how I fit in, not only here, but in life in general.

Maybe it’s my age. Oldsters want to be treated special, and that’s impossible at these huge events.

And for most of the day, I was alone. Just like I used to be. When I needed to go to the show to complete myself.

And I felt broken for a good part of the day.

But Hurray For The Riff Raff gave me hope.

And Jack White proved…

There are still stars. They’re different from you and me. They’re not playing to us, but for themselves. They exude confidence. We can just stand there listening wondering…HOW DO THEY DO THIS?

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